It's Bigger Than Hip Hop
Disclaimer: I`ll be entirely honest with you, I`m really not sure about this article, but I think I`m going to get it down and give it a whirl and well, if it`s wide of the mark then so be it.
Since 50s rock 'n` roll irreversibly tied music to popular culture, culminating in Beatlemania in the mid 60s, music and football have been fastened together in cultural terms. The act of supporters singing on terraces took off in earnest in the mid 60s, when the English upper lip became unstiffened by more liberal values and the Beatles and the Stones wrote irresistibly anthemic pop songs. Songs such as the Stones` 'Get Off of My Cloud` and the Roger Clark 5`s "Glad All Over" encouraged feet stomping, hand clapping call and response choruses which tapped into the bloodstream of the terraces. Indeed, the first known incidents of communal, choreographed chanting in England came from Anfield`s Kop End as Liverpool fans used to sing the Beatles` 'She Loves You.`
It is no surprise then that Liverpool FC have been keen to maintain their musical heritage, Gerry and the Pacemakers` 'Ferry Across the Mersey` is still a match day standard over the Anfield public address system, whilst the same group`s cover of the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune 'You`ll Never Walk Alone` has become so emblemic a terrace anthem, that the refrain is stitched into Liverpool`s club crest. Despite twenty or so years of rampant corporatism, Manchester United still maintain an affinity with their musical heritage. The Stone Roses, New Order and Joy Division are regulars over the Old Trafford tannoy. (No hint of other culturally significant Manchester bands such as the Smiths and Oasis though seeing as their driving creative forces are ardent City fans). United fans consider their regional songsmiths as significant as their footballers. 'Giggs Will Tear You Apart, again` they chant, to the tune of the Ian Curtis` paean to despair. There have been various banners above the Stretford End, where ex Stone Roses front man Ian Brown is a season ticket holder, aping the incantations of his late 80s cult band. "Sent to me from heaven, Georgie Best you`re my world" read a banner shortly after Best`s death, genuflecting the Roses` 1987 single 'Sally Cinnamon.` Whilst Ian Brown`s 2001 solo hit F.E.A.R was referenced by United fans in a flag bearing the legend "For Every Manc A Religion." United is a club and a fan base that has secured itself to indie culture.
This got me thinking as to where Arsenal`s affiliation with popular music begins and ends, if indeed it is present at all. In a very charming recollection of Willie Young`s cynical foul on 17 year old Martin Allen in the 1980 F.A. Cup Final, Nick Hornby writes in Fever Pitch that that moment brought home to him that Arsenal were football`s answer to the Sex Pistols for the punk generation. Ungainly, ungraceful, cynical and loathed by everyone except for their followers. Dismissed as unskilled, ugly chancers. Indeed, Finsbury Park born front man Johnny "Rotten" Lydon is a passionate Arsenal fan. Yet Hornby also draws a binary correlation with how out of step the club`s board were as popular music began to infiltrate the terraces. Whilst other club`s set the tea gathering, loo dashing half time breaks against the sounds of Rod Stewart and Pink Floyd, the Gunners, with their Etonian chairman that spoke in clipped tones, continued to persist with the Metropolitan Police Band. Even today, one could argue that that sense of fuddy duddy at the stereo controls continues at home games , with the club choosing one of Elvis Presley`s more MOR moments 'The Wonder of You` as the "rousing" anthem that the team walks out to. (Quietly ditched last summer. Possibly when the Hill Woods realised that the contents of their Bentley glove compartment are possibly not quite in step with the average Arsenal match going fan`s i-tunes library).
Being a middle class white boy and all, I am of course heavily into hip hop amongst other things. So maybe I am completely imagining the following meditation. But I think Arsenal has, perhaps unwittingly, forged ties with hip hop music that have been erstwhile unexplored. Hip hop was, at its inception, fostered in the disenfranchisement of working class black men. Highbury Stadium was positioned a stone`s throw from Finsbury Park- an area where Nigerian and Jamaican communities settled in the post war immigration boom. Arsenal can very proudly boast having the most culturally diverse fan base in Britain, with almost 9% of Arsenal season ticket holders` non white. This is a reflection of both the community in which Arsenal (itself a football club that undertook a local emigration of sorts) is based and the fact that Arsenal were a club that produced black players in the mid to late 1980s at a rate that is now commonplace in British football. Players such as Paul Davis, Viv Anderson, Chris Whyte and David Rocastle broke terrace taboos, before the likes of Michael Thomas, Ian Wright and Kevin Campbell began to supplant the Arsenal side. Young black men raised in modest working class surroundings.
Maybe the links I am making at this point are tenuous and simplistic, but something of a watershed was reached in this relationship when Ian Wright swaggered into town. Even if Arsenal didn`t stumble upon this symbiosis themselves, Nike, Wright`s sponsors, certainly did. In 1992 they released a famous advert celebrating Wright`s Golden Boot haul, sound tracking his Southampton hat trick to the strains of A Tribe Called Quest`s 'Can I Kick It?` from their crossover album 'The Low End Theory.` For those that remember the ad , can anyone listen to that song and not picture Ian Wright pointing ominously at his boot in front of the North Bank? Wright and Campbell often took moves from the dance floors of hip hop and reggae clubs onto the pitch, further making this tie more tangible.
This trend continues today in the Arsenal side, whilst it is not exclusive to Arsenal, the styles opted for by the likes of Alex Song, Bacary Sagna and Emmanuel Eboue would have their roots in hip hop fashions. Arsenal`s credit in such circles continued to spiral through the roof as Wright`s heir apparent, Thierry Henry, made Gooners of Jay-Z and Spike Lee. (Spike Lee may not be a rapper himself, but can definitely be considered a pioneer of hip hop`s cultural currency). That said, one of Nicolas Anelka`s key gripes of his grumpy stint at Highbury was said to be his team mates refusal to accept his La Rumeur and Carpe Diem records on the dressing room stereo. In Britain, one of hip hop`s most lauded underground labels, Low Life Records, is based and run from the Highbury Estate in Canonbury, under a mile away from our home ground. As such, several British rappers claim their allegiance to the Arsenal. It`s not difficult to see where Islington born rapper YoungGun got his moniker. The brothers McBain and Taskforce were reared on the Harvist Estate that overlooks Ashburton Grove. (Sample Taskforce lyric, "I stop bullets like Pat Jennings/ double o killings/ at the cost of a few shillings.") Perhaps the most audible Gooner in British hip hop is Battersea born MC Rodney P, whose lyrics often feature odes to Arsenal. (Sample lyric from 'The Future` "If you ask him he`s gonna tell you say that Arsenal rule.") Indeed, Rodney P even donated a track to Arsenal`s official "We Love You Arsenal" album in 2008 by penning the tune (Been A Gunner) Since `79.
Maybe these links can be considered somewhat tenuous, but supporters of Manchester United and Liverpool have clearly taken to their links with popular music with gusto. I think Arsenal can claim at least the same connection with a London urban phenomenon as the two aforementioned clubs can with their respective urban soundtracks. The Hampden Park PA blasts out the Pretenders plodding anthem "I Would Walk 500 Miles" every time Scotland score. Maybe it`s time Arsenal began to celebrate their ties with a permanent cultural, youthful phenomenon in the same vein? I for one would probably get to the ground a few minutes earlier if Wu Tang`s "Bring the Mothaf*****n Ruckus" greeted the team`s emergence from the tunnel!LD.
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